Category Archives: Evangelization

We’ve Been Here Before . . .

(Apologies to those who do not like to mix politics with religion and faith. This is one situation where I felt it necessary to speak directly to what is happening around us, offer a perspective that we as Catholics uniquely have, and encourage each of us to consider how to act on that.)

Last week, we were thunderstruck by sexual molestation allegations against a politician made by a woman now in her 40’s about when she was an underage teen. While the conversation has circled around how to handle this candidate and that election, this isn’t a new situation.

We’ve been here before — “we” meaning Catholic leaders and the Catholic Church. It’s been over 20 years since the first major, public accusations (that I can remember) were made of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests. (Cardinal Bernardin in Chicago was falsely accused and is my reference point as I lived in Chicago in the mid-90’s.)

Haven’t we learned a few things that our political leaders might find useful? If nothing else, avoid making the same mistakes we made?

What have we learned? Among the many things, these four come to mind.

  • We must protect victims from being further victimized, and comfort and care for them as the Gospel calls us to.
  • We must care desperately for the small and powerless as Pope Francis reminds us.
  • Integrity, honesty, and trust are virtues we must strive for.
  • When trust is lost, it is very difficult to regain (thank you, Jane Austen).

What did we as Church experience as a result of the sexual abuse crisis? We learned that institutions like the Church lose when they are not perceived as being compassionate and supportive to those who have been victims of any inappropriate behavior.

Now what (as a graduate school professor would say)?

We have an opportunity to bear witness to these lessons among our local leaders. Write them. Email them. Call them. Let them know that this is what we as Christians expect from our leaders.

Our political leaders represent us. Now is a good time to let them hear your voice — a voice of compassion, comfort, and care for those who are victims. Remind them of what they stand to lose. As a parish leader, you may have watched as Mass attendance got smaller, collections went down, and those you cared about struggled to remain. Let’s remind our community leaders that they don’t have to end up on the losing end, and how to get there.

If I have missed a lesson, please share it in the comments.

Teachable Moment #2: The NFL and the National Anthem

Wedding couple kneeling at MassTeachable moment #2. Stand or kneel at the singing of the National Anthem.

With the NFL season fully underway only to be overlapped and followed by hockey and all kinds of basketball (NBA and NCAA), this issue is probably not going to die out any time soon. So, how as ministry leaders and professionals do we sidestep the political aspects of this debate, and facilitate a well-grounded and fair discussion with our children, parents, adults, and leaders?

When in doubt, look to the Church and her liturgical tradition.

Let me preface this by saying, as a “lex orandi, lex credendi” Church, we’re way ahead of everyone else on this topic . . . by almost 10 years.

During the process that led to the revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal (issued in 2010), there was a great deal of discussion and debate over the meaning of standing versus kneeling during the most important moment of the Mass, the Consecration. For the U.S., it was resolved that we kneel during the Consecration as a sign of the great reverence and respect we have for our Lord who died and rose again so that we might escape the bonds of sin and death.

When you travel internationally, however, you will discover (as I have seen everywhere from Italy to China) that this ritual action during the Eucharistic Prayer and Consecration are not consistent. In some countries, they stand. In some countries, they kneel. What is clear is that both standing and kneeling as ritual actions communicate reverence and respect.

As Catholics, one of the contributions that we can make to this discussion–and use as a teachable moment with our children and adults–is to ask the question, “how does each of these ritual actions express reverence and respect?”

Let’s tease out a couple of thoughts as starting points for a more substantial conversation.

Standing

  • Standing symbolizes equality — we are all on the same plane, same level.
  • Standing communicates solidarity — “we-ness” if you will, we stand together as one — one of the Church’s 7 principles of Catholic social teaching.
  • Standing exudes strength, firmness, and rootedness. We use expresses like “standing as tall as a tree” for this reason — a tree is strong, firm, and deeply rooted, it cannot be easily toppled.
  • Standing ritually is a posture of corporate prayer — think of the Our Father and the American habit in some parishes of holding hands. I doubt we would do this were we sitting or kneeling.
  • Standing embodies respect at important moments — when the bride walks down the aisle, when the queen is passing in a procession, when “Taps” is played.

Kneeling

  • Kneeling symbolizes humility — we bow down before that which is greater than we are, our God.
  • Kneeling is the least stable of the human postures. It captures the sense of our human weakness and frailty. We can be easily pushed over. We kneel to recognize that which is stronger then anyone of us.
  • Kneeling is often reserved for moments of sadness and grief, to recognize the losses that have brought us to this point. We kneel to acknowledge our Lord’s death and when others have died.
  • Kneeling is used in both corporate and individual prayer.
  • Kneeling is required when a person is knighted to express fealty and loyalty to the sovereign (in our liturgical life, God).

With an MA in worship, you would think that I would have spent a lot of time contemplating things like this. But I didn’t. It took graduate school to help me step back and reflect on actions that I performed every day and every week with little thought to what they meant.

Take this opportunity to bring to the light a Catholic perspective on this debate. Help those who are in your care to better understand consciously what we say when we stand and when we kneel. Don’t let this teachable moment slip by.

 

The 11th Commandment: Thou Shalt Collaborate

It’s midsummer, and there are 3 pictures in my mind.

July 4th crowds gathering on the Mall, under the Arch, on the lake shore, in the fields to watch fireworks light up the sky.

Over 3,500 people pouring through the Hyatt Regency Orlando and Orange County Convention Center, participating in the USCCB Convocation on missionary discipleship.

Political leaders going home to constituents without a health care bill approved.

What do these all have in common? The desire, need, or fact of collaboration.

And in my mind, collaboration should be the 11th commandment. We are called to do it more often than many like!

July 4th revelers come together to share a common experience of liberty and freedom. Groups of diocesan and parish leaders descended on Orlando to dive deeply into the bishops’ plan for missionary discipleship and plan how to bring it alive back home. And our political leaders? After many weeks of back and forth, the language seems to be taking a turn toward possible collaboration across the aisle.

It isn’t hard to see in the example of Jesus that collaboration was a necessity. Look at his behavior. He was always sending people out in twos. Never a solo act.

When there was a “one,” he sends them back to the many. Take the leper and blind man he heals, the prodigal son who returns home to a celebration in his honor, and the Samaritan woman at the well who is teeming with excitement to tell her villagers what he had done.

As we look ahead to the 2nd half of summer and the beginning of the school and parish year, let’s consider how we can better model, foster, and participate in collaboration in our ministry. Identify a Gospel story that captures best the aspect of collaboration that you need to work on most, and let that Scripture be the focus of your prayer and meditation as the summer progresses.

What Inspires You?

One of our members, World Library Publications, is issuing 3 new recordings on vinyl this year. So, when I got word of these new recordings–one is Bing Crosby and the Christmas story–I got jazzed.

See, tucked away in a cabinet in our library is my stack of records ranging from “The Carpenters” to “Pebbles and Bam-Bam’s Christmas” (yes, really!), and a collection of 78s from the Big Band era.

Records were the soundtrack of my life growing up. They accompanied me in my low moments, sang me out of my doldrums, and celebrated the mountain experiences. Because I would listen to them from start to finish (never just one song), I lived through a whole range of emotions and experiences by the time the last song ended. My faith was formed by Ray Repp, “Joy Is Like the Rain,” and Followers of the Way.

Most people would say that music inspires them. Some music, somewhere. At least once in a lifetime.

What music inspires you?

Why?

I learned that I could be whatever and whoever I wanted to be (“Free to Be You and Me.”) This special and album spearheaded by Marlo Thomas inspired me to look beyond societal boundaries. It helped me believe that I was as capable as the next equally talented and skilled person in the room.

I learned to observe and experience with all of my senses through Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and then Ravel’s orchestration of it. It started as a college “Symphonic Appreciation” assignment, but it captivated my already-nerdy inclination toward museums. The original piano piece added an aural dimension to the visual that has never let me go. It challenges me look at decisions from different points of view, and stop and engage when something doesn’t immediately grab me.

I also learned how to be present in prayer before God. When I was about middle school age, a group of young adults recorded 2 albums as the Followers of the Way. I spent a lot of time listening to, singing with, and dancing to these songs. As I was growing into my faith, they helped me find God in the world, in my family, and in myself.

So, what 3 songs (or albums) have contributed to the score of your life and ministry, and why? How do you still see and hear them resonating in your work and ministry?

2017’s Best Catholic Reads

Here are the 11 best Catholic titles as honored by the Association of Catholic Publishers. Some are wonderful summer reads (The Lion of Munster, One Ordinary Sunday or Remembering God’s Mercy). Others are terrific gifts especially for First Communion or Confirmation (hint, hint — Dear Pope Francis, the Book of the Year, too!) And the remaining ones belong in your hands, on your desk, or on your shelf (once read, of course!)

Here are the best of the best Catholic books with comments from the judges.

Biography: The Lion of Munster: The Bishop Who Roared Against the Nazis by Fr. Daniel Utrecht (Saint Benedict Press) “Well-researched biography of contemporary figure.”

Children: Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World by Pope Francis (Loyola Press) “The questions are both thought-provoking and interesting, and Pope Francis illustrates his respect and care for children in his answers.” “Very fabulous in overall packaging, writing. Clearly an extraordinary book.”

General Interest: One Ordinary Sunday by Paula Huston (Ave Maria Press) “A well-researched and winsomely presented explanation of what happens during Mass. Huston interweaves her personal struggles with the various parts of the Mass one summer Sunday in ordinary time. Written with the zeal of a convert (which Huston is), it’s an important book given the lack of theological education among so many lay Catholics, and it’s a pleasure to read.”

Inspirational: Remembering God’s Mercy by Dawn Eden (Ave Maria Press) “This book is rich in food for thought. The author draws on the teachings and lives of St. Ignatius and his son Pope Francis and adds her personal stories and references to an array of noted people. Not only will people suffering from PTSD find this book helpful, but anyone seeking to grow spiritually.”

Prayer and Spirituality: Faith: Practices, Models and Sources of the Spirit by Walter Kasper (Paulist Press) “The text is highly readable with excellent homiletic type points with the capacity to touch the heart as well as expand thought.  Its view of essential aspects of faith and stages of life, as well as insight into prayer and models of faith, are well gathered.  There is much on which to chew and to bring to prayer and to discussion with others.  Incisive, inviting, rooted in real life, focused on Christ – this, with Kasper’s previous work on mercy, deserves a place on the shelf for consult and ongoing reflection.”

Resources for Liturgy: Three Great Days by Jeremy Helmes (Liturgical Press) “Jeremy’s book helps parish liturgists make practical plans for celebrating the Paschal Triduum well. . .  The book contains 5 Appendices that will be very helpful for all who prepare the liturgies of the three days!”

Resources for Ministry: When We Visit Jesus in Prison by Chaplain Dale S. Recinella (ACTA Publications) “I found this book captivating all the way through.  He offers much statistical information and clearly provides helpful guidelines for working in prisons. His experience comes through, and he makes a strong case for the Christian teaching that we meet Christ in the people who populate our prisons. This is a helpful and thoughtful book about a form of ministry that can get overlooked. Pope Francis didn’t overlook this population by visiting with prisoners when he came to Philadelphia last year. This book does justice to what the pope wants all Christians to be concerned about.”

Resources for Ministry-Programs: Doors of Mercy: Exploring God’s Covenant with You by Fr. Jeffrey Kirby, STD (Saint Benedict Press) “Excellent content in both book and video.”

Scripture: Bringing the Gospel of John to Life by George Martin (Our Sunday Visitor) “I gave this book the most excellent rating because of its thorough scholarship of the biblical text (including the Greek), but also how highly readable it is. The pauses for reflection are at most appropriate times. I love reading and meditating with this book.”

Spanish: Querido Papa Francisco: El Papa responde a las cartas de niños de todo el mundo by Pope Francis (Loyola Press) “Querido Papa Francisco is a wonderful window into Pope Francis’ thought and teaching, through simple but deep insights in response to children’s inquiries from around the world. A great idea beautifully executed by the publisher!”

Theology: The Strength of Her Witness by Elizabeth A. Johnson (Orbis Books) “Johnson’s book is a really good collection of essays that is both diverse globally and features some of the major scholarly figures. Most are brief, but thoughtful, and generally presume some moderately advanced knowledge of theological discourse (e.g., biblical Greek, feminist categories and terminology).”

 

What’s Your pH Level?

Outside my window, we have hydrangea bushes. Being a casual gardener, I was amazed to find out that the color of the blooms changes from blue to pink depending on the pH level of the soil. Such a dramatic response to such a small change in the ecosystem in which the plant grows.

How would you describe the ecosystem where your ministry takes place? What is your ministry “soil” like–rich and well-fertilized, tilled but untended, left to the elements, weak and even toxic?

As the gardener (don’t worry–I’m not going to dive into a deep metaphor on the parable of the Sower and the Seed!), we are responsible for the condition of the soil of our ministry. We may inherit an untended field, but it is our job to decide how to turn that field into something that flourishes.

In our Advent preparing, let’s take some time to dig into our ministry environment, and assess honestly all of the elements that go into it–volunteers, schedule, programming, printed resources, online resources, even your professional leadership. These are but a few of them.

Take some time to ask yourself the hard questions, the questions you really don’t want to answer or the answers you really don’t want to hear. Maybe you need to stop relying so heavily on printed resources. Maybe your ministry needs to have a stronger online presence through the parish website, Twitter account, or Facebook page or on Snapchat or Instagram. Maybe it’s time to take a class or two to update your knowledge of the ministry or just nurture yourself as a better minister. Perhaps it’s time to bring on an associate or intern who has different ideas.

Whatever you find in your reflection, choose one action. Yes, one. To change the color of hydrangeas from blue to pink only requires adding a little lime to the soil. One element. So, what is the one change that you can make that will impact your ministry in a positive way?

And whose help do you need?

A Teachable Moment: Syrian Refugees

Syria - Peace is PossibleThe world has been watching as Syrian refugees flee their country to find warmer, safer, healthier places to live. Catholic Relief Services and Caritas International invite us to Pope Francis in prayer on Monday, Oct. 31.

On October 31, Pope Francis will be saying a prayer for peace in Syria at 3 PM in Sweden. Caritas Internationalis is asking all members to encourage prayer around the world at that time (9AM ET) or at 3 PM local time—or any time that works. Here are links to the prayer and the overall campaign website.

Visit the website for ideas on how to spread the message that peace is possible in Syria.

One Tip on Healthy Culture

Blessed SacramentIf there is one lesson to be learned from this political season, it is how silence can breed mistrust and transparency can feed trust.

Catholics have many positive experiences of silence. The pause between an intercession and the words, “We pray to the Lord . . .” Or the grander silences like the incensing of the altar and preparation of the Blessed Sacrament on Holy Thursday.

In our secular experience, we often keep silent and do not talk about those things we share in common–“life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”–because we do share them.

However, this political year has shown us the high price for not talking about things.

On Sunday when my children’s choir led the music, one of the 6-year-olds looked up at me during the Eucharistic Prayer and asked me what the “round thing” in the priest’s hand was. I said, “It’s Jesus.” He mumbled, “It looks like a round thing.” I repeated it again, “It’s Jesus.” He looked away and the conversation ended.

But I stood there, looking at my eight 6-year-olds, knowing that they would be preparing for First Communion next year, thinking about how easy it was for me to just believe what was happening in the reverent silence, and how hard it was to explain it satisfactorily to a 6-year-old.

His understanding and trust in transubstantiation won’t come through osmosis by silently looking at the elevated host. It didn’t for me–or you. It will take lots of explanation, lots of tumbling around in his brain, lots of conversations and questions before he will be able to trust in our shared Catholic belief about the mystery of the Eucharist.

And if people like me and his parents and his teachers don’t take the time to talk with him about it over the years, he’ll make up his own mind . . . When that day comes (if it comes, please, no!), it will be near impossible for him to trust in any different understanding because those of us around him have been silent.

Bottom line: Information and transparency build trust. If we want to create a healthy culture, we must articulate what we know and believe first–and often–before we can settle into the silence of assumed agreement. And even then, we cannot be afraid to talk about them again and again and again.

Reason and Wonder

wonderReason and wonder are the two sides of a coin like the one that Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel.

Good leaders have the ability to use both reason and wonder to inspire and motivate themselves and others to embrace the Good News, evangelize, and nourish those they encounter.

Today’s first reading from Ezekiel illustrates this. It begins with an ordered account of the when, rooting us in a specific time and place . . .

On the fifth day of the fourth month of the fifth year,
that is, of King Jehoiachin’s exile . . .
–Ezekiel 1:2

Then unfolds the mysterious, awesome, and wonderous vision of the glory of God.

Jesus recognizes this too in today’s Gospel. He puts the question to Peter about paying the temple tax, then instructs Peter to go fishing. In the mouth of the fish Peter catches, there is a coin with which they pay the tax. Practical yet wonder-filled.

I’ve often thought about how much of my day, week, month is spent focused on the quotidian efforts of answering the questions of who, what, where, and when, and limited time spent reflecting on the vision of the glory of God and what that might mean in my work and ministry.

I know I need the reasoned side of the coin, but do I forget the wonder side?

Where do I see wonder and want only to express it in praise?